Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales (F8)



  The NFU welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the committee on illegal meat imports and the adequacy of the Government's action plan published on 28 March 2002. The importance of this issue has been highlighted by last year's disastrous outbreak of foot and mouth disease, and the need to ensure that every possible step is taken to prevent a recurrence of the import of this or any other animal diseases. In passing we would make the point that we are equally concerned to protect our industry from the import of plant diseases and those carried by insects; indeed there have been cases reported where meat has been imported illegally concealed in consignments of plant material.


  1.1  The NFU recognises the joint responsibilities of industry and the key role that farming and other organisations can play in helping to protect the UK from disease. We believe effective import controls and surveillance have a crucial role to play in preventing disease outbreaks in the UK, alongside improvements in biosecurity measures within the UK and EU, and world-wide efforts to eradicate disease.

  1.2  The NFU undertook an extensive review of import controls (summary provided in Annex I), and in January 2002, we organised a meeting of representatives of industry groups and enforcement bodies in order to draw relevant sectors of industry together to explore the issue. There was agreement that the present situation was not satisfactory and more needs to be done. Delegates agreed to meet again in 6-8 weeks, demonstrating the industry's willingness to co-operate to protect the UK from disease.

  1.3  Informed by this discussion, and our own research on import controls, the NFU submitted a number of suggestions to Lord Whitty at DEFRA on 19 February 2002 (Annex II).


  1.4.1  The NFU welcomes the publication of the action plan on illegal imports in March 2002. We believe the measures proposed will contribute towards decreasing the risk of importing animal disease and many of them address the suggestions made by the NFU. We welcome the fact that a dedicated unit has been set up within DEFRA to ensure that the plan is implemented.

  1.4.2  However, the NFU is disappointed at the length of time it has taken for the Government to agree an action plan. The plan was published over one year after the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in the UK. The NFU has long been calling for urgent action and made specific recommendations to government in July 2001. Although we welcome the approach based on assessments of risk, current work is limited to meat imports. We believe that the Government should take account of its enforcement activities to combat risks to the nation on a broader front (for example against the illegal importation of drugs and arms) to examine the scope for achieving more effectiveness across the board through improved co-ordination of agencies, shared intelligence and use of resources, etc.

  1.4.3  We are concerned that the level of resources allocated to implementation, and the depth of commitment from government bodies (other than DEFRA) to implementing the plan, may not be adequate, when compared to the costs of a disease outbreak. For example, due to the recent FMD outbreak, direct compensation has been paid to the agricultural industry of approximately 1,174 million for culling, together with 255 million under the livestock welfare disposal scheme. We estimate further uncompensated losses, to the agriculture sector alone, amount to over 900 million. It is not straightforward to estimate the total cost to the UK economy, but it is probable that it exceeds 2 billion, and it could be significantly more. We suggest the cost of strengthening import controls is a small price to pay in comparison as an "insurance premium".


  We are concerned that the plan does not address a number of issues that are a key part of improving the framework for protecting the UK from imported disease.

  1.5.1  There remains a critical need for better co-ordination of the activities of the various government agencies. There should be a lead agency tasked with this function. We believe there is a case for a formal concordat for co-ordination of the relevant government agencies, providing clarification of responsibilities and powers. This would be of benefit to the relevant enforcement staff and could improve co-operation with staff within key industry sectors, such as airline cabin crew or postal staff who are likely to encounter evidence of illegal imports. In our view, a leaflet aimed at clarifying the complexities of current framework is not sufficient. We suggest a dedicated website providing clear information and links to the relevant government bodies would also be of value.

  1.5.2  We suggest that funding of the Port Health Authorities through Local Government is not the most appropriate route for financing co-ordinated nation-wide disease protection. The Government should undertake an assessment of the effectiveness of the current funding structure and the potential benefits of restructuring. Under the present arrangements, local taxpayers would appear to bear a disproportionate burden in financing BIPs in their area.

  1.5.3  Much of the legislation on import controls into the UK, particularly for meat products, is determined by European regulations. The UK's level of protection from imported disease (as provided by the current EU legal framework) is determined by how effectively other member states enforce border controls. Improvements in UK enforcement must be accompanied by sharing of best practice across the EU. The action plan includes working with European authorities to clarify and potentially tighten enforcement of rules on third country imports reaching the UK via other EU member states. This must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

  1.5.4  We believe the current personal allowances for food and agricultural produce (determined by EU legislation) are complex, confusing, and insufficiently policed. The clearest solution to this problem would be to abolish personal allowances altogether, with some very limited exceptions, for example milk for babies or items essential for medical purposes. We suggest the UK should take a proactive role within Europe on this issue to press for an early review of the present regulations and risks, with the onus of proof on those who may argue for the retention of the personal allowances.

  1.5.5  Due to the existence of the single market, we believe protection of the UK from illegal imports must be addressed through co-ordinated effort between member states. Consignments that have been rejected from one border inspection post (BIP) must not be permitted to enter through another member state. Furthermore, improvements in border controls in a single member state could result in dubious material being redirected through another member state, perceived as having less stringent controls. A financial advantage from such trade may even be gained by member states who have, or are perceived as having, less stringent controls.

  1.5.6  European surveillance and communication are crucial parts of a co-ordinated network of protection. BIPs must have appropriate mechanisms for exchange of information. We understand an electronic system, SHIFT, was proposed in the early 1990s for this purpose but is not operating due to the lack of political will within Europe to provide sufficient resources for its effective implementation. The UK Government must press for an appropriate electronic system for rapid exchange of information to be implemented across Europe.

  1.5.7  The EU framework for control of non-animal derived agricultural and food imports is less harmonised than that of animal derived products. Under current requirements, plant consignments are less frequently checked and less rigorously inspected than animal produce consignments, leading to concerns that meat products (or other illegal material) may be smuggled in via this channel. The NFU calls for harmonisation of control systems between product types (plant and animal) and for closer co-ordination between the Port Health Authorities and the Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate, and Animal Health Veterinary Inspectorate. We recommend that consignee payments, already applied in respect of meat imports, be extended to plant products, to assist in cost recovery for inspection.

  1.5.8  We would like to draw a recent report from the EU Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) to the attention of the Committee. The report details a recent inspection of UK BIPs and we note a number of major non-compliances. The FVO consider that "the performance of the competent authorities in respect of the overall efficiency of the import control system in the United Kingdom needs considerable improvement". In addition, recommendations are made for increases in staff (particularly at Heathrow) and staff training, and that the co-operation with other relevant services needs to be enhanced.

  The report is published on the European Commission website:


  The NFU has undertaken a review of the import controls used by other countries. Full details are provided in Annex III.


  2.1  Within the EU, methods used by each member state to implement controls of imported foodstuffs appear to vary, particularly with respect to controls on foods of non-animal origin, for which EU legislation is less consolidated. In January 2000, following a series of visits to member states, the Commission recommended that controls on products of animal and non-animal origin should be brought closer together and that food control authorities should collaborate more closely with customs authorities.

  2.2  For food of non-animal origin, surveillance of import standards generally focuses on one or more of three options:

    Control at the point of entry.

    Market control.

    Self-monitoring of import firms.

  2.3  Some countries (eg Spain) implement primary controls at the point of entry. Others (eg Germany and the Netherlands) focus on market controls. A few countries (eg France and Denmark) do not implement controls at entry points, aside from the compulsory checks provided for in specific Commission Decisions.


  2.4  There are a number of examples of best practice in non-EU countries, which the UK or EU might benefit from implementing.

  2.5  The Australian approach is risk-based and the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) is a centralised body with responsibility for management of the risk associated with imported products.

  2.6  We understand that sniffer dogs are routinely used as a fast and effective method for checking for illegal produce entering Australia, New Zealand and the USA.

  2.7  Travellers to Australia, New Zealand and the USA are made aware of the restrictions on importing food and agricultural produce, before they arrive in the country. For example, passengers on airlines entering the USA are required to fill out landing cards which list restricted items and require their declaration.

  2.8  Although we cannot comment on the level of risk to which these countries have been exposed to, we suggest that the long history of freedom from outbreaks of major animal diseases that Australia and New Zealand have, might indicate the success of their imports control programme.

May 2002



  The following summary is based on our understanding of the current control framework. We suggest that the appropriate UK authorities would be better placed to provide detailed information.


1.1 EU legislation

  In the case of live animals, fresh meat and animal products, EU legislation provides for the following measures:

    —  Health and veterinary controls on intra-EU trade in live animals, fresh meat and meat products—these provide for live animals and animal products to come from approved establishments and be accompanied by an official health certificate.

    —  The establishment of a list of third countries from which member states may import live animals, fresh meat and meat products—this list is established on the basis of several factors and is amended in the light of any relevant developments or changes in the animal health and veterinary status of individual third countries.

    —  Certification requirements for imports from third counties—all imports of fresh meat must be accompanied by official animal health certificates.

    —  The approval and inspection of individual export premises in third countries.

    —  Inspection procedures applying to third country imports of live animals, fresh meat and meat products at the EU's Border Inspection Posts—these provide for checks on documentation, identity checks and, possibly, physical checks.

    —  Controls on personal imports of products from third countries.

1.2 UK implementation of EU requirements

  In the case of third country imports of animals and fresh meat, inspections are carried out at approved Border Inspection Posts. Inspections include checks on accompanying documents, identity checks and physical checks on a percentage of products depending on the product and the country of origin. Inspections are carried out by an official veterinary surgeon, in accordance with the requirements of Council Directive 97/78, to ensure that consignments comply with animal and public health requirements set out in legislation.

  Exporters must give advance notice of the import to the health authority at the relevant border inspection post. Establishments exporting animal products to the EU must be approved by the European Commission, following a satisfactory inspection visit by officials of the EU Food and Veterinary Office. Inspections are carried out by an official veterinary surgeon, in accordance with the requirements of Council Directive 97/78, to ensure that consignments comply with animal and public health requirements set out in legislation.

  Documentary checks of animal products verify that the necessary veterinary documentation accompanies consignments. This includes a certificate signed by a veterinary officer in the country of origin guaranteeing production standards and the animal health status of the area of production. Documents must also carry a health mark indicating that the goods have been inspected at the establishment of origin. Documents must be originals; photocopied or faxed certificates are not acceptable.

  Identity checks verify that the consignment is that described in the accompanying documentation. They also involve the inspection of any stamps, health or other official marks.

  Physical checks involve visual inspection of the contents of the consignment. They may also involve sampling for microbiological or chemical testing in a laboratory. Strictly, physical checks are required on all consignments. In practice, for most products where rules are harmonised with EU requirements, physical checks are carried out on a percentage of products according to the product and country of origin. For products in Category I (such as some beef, lamb, fish and egg products) 20 per cent of consignments are inspected. For products in Category II (such as poultry, game, milk and honey) 50 per cent of consignments are checked. For Category III (hides, wool, pet food, bone products, horns and hooves) up to 10 per cent of consignments are inspected.

  On completion of the inspection, a certificate of veterinary checks (CVC) is issued to the importer indicating the result of the inspection. A fee is charged for these checks which is collected at the Border Inspection Post.


2.1 EU Legislation

  In the case of plants and plant-derived materials, EU legislation is less consolidated than for animal-derived products. Member states vary in methods of controlling third country imports of foodstuffs of non-animal origin (see Annex II.1):

    —  Council Directive 89/397 sets out general guidelines for the control of foodstuffs for member states.

    —  Commission Directive 92/90 establishes obligations to which producers and importers of plants, plant products or other objects are subject and establishing details for their registration.

    —  Commission Directive 92/105 establishes standardised plant passports to be used for the movement of certain plants, plant products or other objects within the Community.

    —  Council Directive 2000/29 details protective measures against the introduction of organisms harmful to plants or plant products and against their spread within the EU, and establishes the EU plant health regime. The current legislation requires a customs check of documents and identity for all consignments upon entry into the EU from a third country. Plant health checks are compulsory on all consignments and may be performed upon entry or at a customs-controlled remote transit shed.

  A proposal to amend Directive 2000/29 has been put forward, specifying controls on imports and introducing the principle of harmonised fees for phytosanitary inspections, with the aim of streamlining and improving co-ordination of the work of Customs and Plant Health Inspectors.

  The phytosanitary proposal aims to clarify provisions for plant health protection within the EU. It lays out the procedures and requirements that should be completed before a shipment can be cleared by Customs, and establishes a system of co-operation (communication and information) between the responsible official bodies and the customs office in a particular member state, on one hand, and between responsible bodies of all member states.

2.2 UK control framework

  Controls in the UK are applied under The Imported Food Regulations 1997, which enable local authority officials at UK ports to inspect, detain, sample and seize products as appropriate.


General suggestions

  1.  There is a clear need to better target resources, informed by the best available intelligence on risks presented. We urge the Government to initiate an intelligence gathering and sharing programme, with industry involvement where relevant.

  2.  Urgent efforts should be made in the meantime to tackle the obvious gaps in the current framework of import control enforcement, as highlighted below.

  3.  There is a critical need for better co-ordination of the activities of the various government agencies. This should be in the form of a framework for formal co-ordination of the relevant government agencies, providing clarification of responsibilities and powers. There should be one lead agency within the government machine.

Commercial consignments

  4.  There is a need for a consistent structure for commercially imported products of both animal and non-animal origin.

  5.  Prior notification should be given to enforcement officials for all commercial consignments both animal and non-animal origin to assist in effective allocation of enforcement resources.

  6.  Deterrents and penalties need to be tightened.

Personal imports

  7.  We welcome DEFRA's recent efforts (within the framework of current resources) to raise traveller awareness of the rules on personal allowances. We seek assurances that this campaign will continue, and that additional resources will be allocated for pursuit of publicity strategies that have proven to be effective.

  8.  Ideally travellers should be deterred from bringing food or agricultural produce with them before they set off. However, we believe that those who respond to publicity in ports must be given the opportunity to dispose of risk material, prior to their entry to the country. We seek assurances that the Government will consider providing such facilities. There should be on-the-spot penalties for infringements of the rules.

  9.  The use of on-the-spot fines should be considered for those who, despite publicity campaigns, deliberately break rules on personal allowances.

  10.  We believe the current personal allowances for food and agricultural produce are complex and confusing. We seek assurances that the Government will press the European Commission to consider abolishing personal allowances apart from some limited exceptions.


  11.  We urge the Government to provide enforcement officers with the most effective tools to prevent illegal animal and non-animal origin material entering the UK.

  12.  We seek firm assurances from government that all enforcement officers likely to encounter illegal material, notably the Port Health Authorities, be given appropriate powers to search consignments and seize illegal products.

  13.  We ask Ministers to consider whether funding of the Port Health Authorities through Local Government is the most appropriate route for financing co-ordinated nation-wide disease protection.

  14.  We believe surveillance mechanisms, electronic databases and alerting mechanisms should be employed for both animal and non-animal materials. We seek assurances that the Government will press the European Commission to provide adequate funding and support for the SHIFT system, or an equivalent electronic network for sharing information between member state enforcement bodies.

  15.  The Government should also consider tools such as sniffer dogs and high throughput X-ray machines capable of distinguishing hidden meat.



  The examples below are based on information provided by the member state authorities or by the European Commission in inspection reports.

1.1 Spain

  In Spain, the following authorities are in charge of implementing food import controls:

    —  Customs and Excise (part of the Tax Agency of the Treasury Department).

    —  External Health (veterinary control food of animal and non-animal origin at 40 posts at border points).

    —  Animal Health (products of animal origin not for human consumption inspected by veterinary staff).

    —  Plant Health (phytosanitary controls on vegetable products).

    —  SOIVRE (commercial quality control, part of the Department of Trade).

  Personal baggage is controlled by Customs, instructed by External Health and Animal Health. All food products and products of animal origin exceeding 1kg are subject to veterinary controls.

  Spain has a centralised computer system on line (SISAEX), which is used to communicate between control units and departments, set sampling levels, and establish a number of alerts and refusals, thus enabling checks to be more uniform.

  The Spanish system of import controls applies to all foodstuffs, whether they are of animal origin or not.

1.2 The Netherlands

  Since 1998, the Inspectie Gezondheidsbescheming, Waren en Veterinaire Zaken (IW&V) has covered inspection of the whole food chain, including sampling and testing. The two main points of entry to the Netherlands for foodstuffs from third countries are: Rotterdam seaport and Schipol airport in Amsterdam.

  The system in place for plant material relies on collaboration between Customs and IW&V. Customs inform the IW&V of the arrival of specific products at the border. The Customs service has a computerised system for declarations and customs are responsible for reporting suspicion concerning food consignments.

1.3  Germany

  Food import control checks are the responsibility of the Laender, Germany's regional governments. The German authorities emphasise the importance of importer checks are part of their duty of care. In general, the emphasis appears to be on general monitoring of foodstuffs on the market, rather than checking at point of entry (apart from compulsory checks). Co-operation between customs and food control authorities is limited to compulsory checks at the point of entry. Customs has a computerised system for the processing of declarations.

1.4 France

  The Direction Generale de la Concurrence de la Consommation et de la Repression des Fraudes (DGCCRF) (dealing with competition and consumer interests) is responsible for import controls on foodstuffs. Some specific controls are performed at the point of entry. However, the DGCCRF generally performs two types of surveillance:

    —  Monitoring of products on the market (at the distribution stage).

    —  Self-monitoring of import firms to ensure compliance with quality and safety requirements, through agreements signed between the DGCCRF and trade associations.

  Customs authorities are not involved in detecting hazardous foodstuffs, although they do have some involvement in document checks. Customs has a computerised system (SOFI) for the processing of declarations.


  Examples of third country import controls are given below for comparison. The enforcement of import controls in these examples appears to be particularly stringent.

2.1 Australia

  Australia's import control policy is based on the assessment and management of pest and disease risks to human, animal and plant health and the environment. The Imported Food Control Act 1992 lays out the Food Inspection Scheme and enforcement procedures for import controls. The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) has responsibility for management of the risk associated with imported products in various ways.

  The importation of some products is, by law, subject to certain quarantine conditions. ICON, AQIS's quarantine import conditions database, contains the current Australian import conditions for more than 13,000 foreign plant, animal, mineral and human commodities and details of the latest Australian import requirements.

  Some products have been assessed as posing significant risk and are not allowed entry into Australia.

  Other products are only allowed into Australia upon the granting of an import permit from AQIS or, in certain cases, one of its State Offices. Permits granted are subject to any conditions deemed necessary for safe importation, use and disposal of those products and a fee is charged in the order of A$60 to A$180 per application.

  Importers must also comply with the conditions of all other regulatory and advisory bodies associated with importing plant and animal products to Australia:

    —  The Australian Customs Service.

    —  The Therapeutic Goods Administration.

    —  The National Registration Authority for Agriculture and Veterinary Chemicals.

    —  The State Department of Agriculture.

  Mail entering Australia is checked and prohibited items are confiscated and offenders may be prosecuted. It is illegal to send or receive prohibited materials, even small quantities, via mail.

  With regard to personal baggage, import clearance charges are now levied on biological material imported as accompanied baggage, following establishment of checking facilities in 1998.

2.2 New Zealand

  Certain food standard agreements exist between Australia and New Zealand, so that movement of food products between the two countries is to a certain extent easier than importing from a third country. The main body of legislation is the Biosecurity Act 1993, combined with various Biosecurity Regulations and Orders relating to specific product groups.

  Defined standards exist for animal import health, which provide details of the conditions relating to transmit, importation and quarantine that must be met by an exporting country wishing to export a specific commodity to New Zealand. Plant import health standards specify the phytosanitary requirements that must be met before the commodity may be imported. Standards are generally specific to both country and commodity (eg sweetcorn from South Africa) although a general standard has recently been published for importation of foodstuffs containing animal-derived products. All plants and plant products must be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate. This is a declaration that the conditions required in the plant import standard have been met. The phytosanitary certificate is issued by the relevant government authority in the country of origin of the commodity.

2.3 The United States

  All food products imported into the USA are subject to examination by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with the exception of most meat and poultry, which are regulated by the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). All products must meet the same standards as domestic goods.

  The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) inspects imported agricultural products at US borders (airport terminals, seaports, border stations). Plant Protection and Quarantine officers inspect plants and plant product imports, and APHIS Veterinary Services officials inspect meat products. The Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration inspects imports of grains to ensure that US standards are met.

  FSIS establishes separate inspection requirements and safety standards for imported meat and poultry products. Countries approved to export to the United States are listed in the US Code of Federal Regulations. A country's inspection system is evaluated through document and on-site reviews. Individual plants that meet all applicable standards and are authorised to export to the United Statues are certified annually by the chief inspection official in an eligible country.

  FSIS import inspectors check labels on both shipping containers and retail-size packages, which must meet US labelling requirements. Certified foreign plants should obtain label approvals before preparing products for export. Product labels must be in English and must include:

    —  Product name.

    —  Establishment number and country of origin.

    —  Name and address of the manufacturer or distributor.

    —  Net quantity of contents in avoirdupois (pounds and ounces) or liquid measure.

    —  List of ingredients; and

    —  Handling statements, if applicable.


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